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CHARACTERIZATION BY BAYARD TAYLOR. 1. No English poet, with the possible exception of Byron, has so ministered to the natural appetite for poetry in the people as Tennyson. Byron did this—unintentionally, as all genius does -by warming and arousing their dormant sentiment: Tennyson by surprising them into the recognition of a new luxury in the harmony and movement of poetic speech. I use the word "luxury” purposely; for no other word will express the glow and richness and fulness of his technical qualities. It was scarcely a wonder that a generation accustomed to look for compact and palpable intellectual forms in poetry—a generation which was still hostile to Keats and Shelley, and had not yet caught up with Wordsworth-should at first regard this new flower as an interpolating weed. But when its blossom-buds fully expanded into gorgeous, velvety-crimsoned, golden-anthered tiger-lilies, filling the atmosphere of our day with deep, intoxicating spiceodors, how much less wonder that others should snatch the seed and seek to make the acknowledged flower their own?
2. Tennyson must be held guiltless of all that his followers and imitators have done. His own personal aim has been pure and lofty ; but without his intention or will, or even expectation, he has stimulated into existence a school of what might be called Decorative Poetry. I take the adjective from its present application to a school of art. I have heard more than one distinguished painter in England say of painting, “ It is simply a decorative art.” Hence it needs only a sufficiency of form to present color; the expression of an idea, perspective, chiaro-oscuro do not belong to it ; for these address themselves to the mind, whereas art addresses itself only to the eye." This is no place to discuss such a materialistic heresy; I mention it only to make my meaning clear. We may equally say that decorative poetry addresses itself only to the ears, and seeks to occupy an intermediate ground between poetry and music. I need not give instances. They are becoming so common that the natural taste of mankind, which may be surprised and perverted for a time, is beginning to grow fatigued, and the flower—as Tennyson justly complains in his somewhat petulant poem—will soon be a weed again.
3. Such poems as Morte d'Arthur, The Talking Oak, Locksley Hall, Ulysses, and The Two Voices, wherein thought, passion, and imagination, combined in their true proportions, breathe through full, rich, and haunting forms of verse, at once gave Tennyson his place in English literature. The fastidious care with which every image was wrought, every bar of the movement adjusted to the next, and attuned to the music of all, every epithet chosen for point, freshness, and picturesque effect, every idea restrained within the limits of close and clear expression—these virtues, so intimately fused, became a sudden delight for all lovers of poetry, and for a time affected their appreciation of its more unpretending and artless forms. The poet's narrow circle of admirers widened at once, taking in so many of the younger generation that the old doubters were one by one compelled to yield. Poe, possessing much of the same artistic genius in poetry, was the first American author to welcome Tennyson ; and I still remember the eagerness with which, as a boy of seventeen, after reading his paper, I sought for the volume, and I remember also the strange sense of mental dazzle and bewilderment I experienced on the first perusal of it. I can only compare it with the first sight of a sunlit landscape through a prison : every object has a rainbowed outline. One is fascinated to look again and again though the eye-ache.
4. Hundreds of Tennyson's lines and phrases have become fixed in the popular memory; and there is scarcely one that is not suggestive of beauty, or consoling, or heartening. His humanity is not a passion, but it uses occasion to express itself ; his exclusive habits and tastes are only to be implied from his works. He delights to sing of honor and chastity and fidelity, and his most voluptuous measures celebrate no greater indulgences than indolence and the sensuous delight of life. With an influence in literature unsurpassed since that of Byron, he may have incited a morbid craving for opulent speech in less gifted writers, but he has never disseminated morbid views of life. His conscious teaching has always been wholesome and elevating. In spite of the excessive art, which I have treated as his prominent fault as a poet-nay, partly in consequence of ithe has given more and keener delight to the reading world than any other author during his lifetime. This is an honorable, enduring, and far-shining record. I know not where to turn for an equal illustration of the prizes to be won and the dangers to be encountered through the consecration of a life to the sole service of poetry.
5. Tennyson has thoroughly experienced the two extreme phases of the world's regard. For twelve years after his first appearance as a poet, he was quietly overlooked by the public, and was treated to more derision than criticism by the literary journals. When his popularity once struck root, it grew rapidly, and in a few years became an overshadowing fashion. Since the publication of his first Idylls of the King, it has been almost considered as a heresy, in England, to question the perfection of his poetry i even the sin of his art came to be regarded as its special virtue. The estimate of his performance rose into that extravagance which sooner or later provokes a reaction against itself. There are, at present, signs of the beginning of such a reaction, and we need not be surprised if (as in Byron's case) it should swing past the line of justice, and end by undervaluing, for a time, many of the poet's high and genuine qualities. This is the usual law of literary fame which has known such vicissitudes. Its vibrations, though lessened, continue until Time, the sure corrector of all aberrations of human judgment, determines its moveless place. And Tennyson's place in the literature of the English language, whatever may be its relation to that of the acknowledged masters of song, is sure to be high and permanent.
1.-ULYSSES. [INTRODUCTION.—This poem contains seventy as strong lines of blank verse as are to be found in the English language. It has been pronounced “the soul of all Homer.” Under the heroic form of the Homeric Ulysses, the poem symbolizes the passionate desire felt by all noble souls “to seek a newer world”
“To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.")
NOTES. – Ulysses. Ulysses, called his twenty years of adventurous
Odysseus ('Oôvoceus) by the wanderings, and to have re-
cients to indicate the approach 1, 2. idle king ... crags. Ulysses is of rainy weather when they rose
here supposed to have finished | with the sun.
LITERARY ANALYSIS.-1-5. It... me. Is the structure periodic or loose ? What is the logical subject of the verb " profits," of which "it" is the antici. pative subject ?
3. mete and dole. What is the distinction between these synonyms ? 6, 7. will drink ... lees. What is the figure of speech?
II. Vexed, etc. What is the figure of speech ?-I am become a name. Ex. plain.